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Robert Cloutman and Elisabeth Anthony Dexter papers

Biographical note

Robert Cloutman Dexter

Robert Cloutman Dexter was born in 1887 in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, to William and Willamina (Snow) Dexter. He earned both his A.B. (1912) and A.M. (1917) from Brown University before being awarded the Ph.D. in Sociology in 1923 from Clark University (Worcester, Mass.), where he wrote his dissertation on French Canadian emigration to New England. In 1914 he married Elisabeth Anthony, and they had two children, Lewis and Harriet.

Dr. Dexter taught sociology and political science at Skidmore College before he was appointed Social and Foreign Relations Secretary for the American Unitarian Association in 1927. He became Executive Director of the Unitarian Service Committee upon its formation in 1940 and worked with his wife in the Lisbon office assisting European war refugees until the end of 1944. He also served as attaché to the American Embassy in Lisbon in 1944.

In 1945 Dr. Dexter became a European representative of the Church Peace Union (now the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs), a position requiring extensive world travel. Andrew Carnegie had organized the CPU in 1914 to promote “moral leadership and … alternatives to armed conflict” ( Carnegie Council web site) through the cooperation of world churches and spiritual organizations. Following this appointment, Dr. Dexter worked for various religious/humanitarian organizations, including the World Alliance for Friendship through the Churches and World Affairs Council of Rhode Island.

Among his publications are Social Adjustment (Knopf, 1927) and The Minister and Family Troubles: a Case Study of the Minister and the Church to Sex and Family Problems (R.R. Smith, 1931), written jointly with his wife Elisabeth.

Robert Dexter died in 1955 at age 68.

Elisabeth Anthony Dexter

Elisabeth Anthony Dexter was born in 1887 to Alfred W. and Harriet (Angell) Anthony in Bangor, Maine. In 1908 she graduated from Bates College with a Bachelor’s degree in Literature. After receiving her A.M. from Columbia, she earned a Ph.D. in American History from Clark University (Worcester, Mass.) in 1923.

Like her husband Robert, Elisabeth taught at Skidmore before devoting herself to humanitarian work with the Unitarian Service Committee from 1941 to 1944 in their Lisbon office. While in Lisbon she performed intelligence work for the Office of Strategic Services. From 1945 until 1948 she joined her husband in representing the Church Peace Union in Europe.

In addition to her humanitarian work, Dr. Dexter remained an active scholar and educator. She published two noteworthy historical studies of colonial and early American women’s professions: Colonial Women of Affairs (1924) and Career Women of America, 1776-1840 (1951), both of which were reprinted in 1971. She spent nearly twenty years researching and writing an ultimately unpublished biography of Sir Walter Scott’s wife Charlotte, variously titled The Happy Marriage and the Mystery and Sir Walter Scott and his Wife. In 1945 she was awarded the honorary LL.D. from her alma mater, Bates College.

Elisabeth Dexter died on March 26, 1971, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Dexters and the Unitarian Service Committee

The Unitarian Service Committee (USC) was formalized in 1940 as the humanitarian arm of the American Unitarian Association (AUA). Several years earlier, Robert C. Dexter, director of the AUA’s Department of Social Relations, had called for action in response to Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland, a region of western Czechoslovakia inhabited by ethnic Germans. In 1939 Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp traveled to Prague to assess the resulting refugee problem. Weeks later the Nazis occupied the entire country and the Sharps began the USC rescue and relief effort that would eventually be based in Marseilles and Lisbon.

In 1940 Robert Dexter became Executive Director of the Unitarian Service Committee and traveled with Elisabeth to Europe early in 1940 to evaluate the refugee problem and recommend relief measures. The following year they established the Lisbon office to assist refugees and worked out of it until the end of 1944. According to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (the Unitarian and Universalist service committees formally merged in 1963 after years of collaboration) the USC effort resulted in the rescue of between 1000 and 3000 individuals by the end of World War II.

Alfred Williams Anthony

Elisabeth Dexter’s father, Alfred Williams Anthony, was born on January 13, 1860, in Providence, Rhode Island, to Lewis Williams and Britannia (Waterman) Anthony. He graduated from Brown University in 1883; after graduating from Cobb Divinity School (Lewiston, Maine) he entered the Free Baptist ministry. He married Harriet Angell in 1885 and settled in Maine, where he pursued his work as a minister, author and academic. He and Harriet had four children, only two of whom reached adulthood: Elisabeth (1887) and Alfred (1894). Harriet died in 1899, and Anthony married Gertrude Libbey of Lewiston, Maine, in 1903, after which were born two more children: Richard (1903) and Warren (1905).

Dr. Anthony received his Doctorate in Divinity from Cobb in 1902 and taught for many years at Bates College School of Divinity. In addition, he worked for the American Baptist Home Mission Society and, after retirement, the Federal Council of Churches. Throughout his career, he wrote extensively on the Baptist ministry, interdenominational relations and financial planning for nonprofit organizations.

Alfred Williams Anthony died in 1939.